The train had just begun to move when I hurled my two bags through the open door. I held the railing on the sides and ran a bit longer before lifting myself in the air in a perfect jumbo jet take off and stepped onto the moving train. Though I was just average in height and a little stocky by the sides, the little stunt made me feel taller than what I was. I stood by the door for a moment or two, catching my breath after the little jog, before moving in.
Being a Sunday and a public holiday to top that, the train was not much crowded. I realized that had it not been for the extra ten minutes that I slept in the afternoon, I probably would have reached the station and boarded the train comfortably. All the same, it did not matter much since I had made reservations. My destination was the national capital, a night’s journey away. Though I could sleep little in the jiggling train, I always thought it was better than spending an entire day of sitting and looking out of the window at the trees and odd houses that passed you by.
I found my seat without much trouble and settled in after pushing my bags under the seat. The compartment was mostly empty. I noticed a shawl and a book on the seat facing mine. Probably, my fellow passenger had gone to freshen up or something. I glanced at the book. It was some religious jargon. I was not much of a reader myself and some ancient text or scriptures was the last thing that could suit my interest at the moment. I looked at my watch. It was nearing 9 p.m. I strained to look outside the window. The tinted window pane of the AC coach did not allow much of a vision. I looked around. There was an elderly man half sitting, half dozing on the seat across. Not much chance of a conversation there too. I decided to get a smoke and walked out towards the door to light one. I was not much of a smoker either and lit up an end or two more out of boredom than for a craving of nicotine.
By the time I came back and settled on my seat, the passenger on the empty seat had returned. She was a girl, who I assumed, would be in her early 20’s. Dressed in a white suit, she had sharp features and looked strikingly beautiful, despite the low cabin light and the fact that she was not wearing any make-up. She had long dark hair which lay fallen over her shoulders, almost carelessly flowing about her. She seemed to be absorbed in her reading and hardly acknowledged my presence. She rested her hand over her bag which she had put on her seat by the window and had her feet up and was almost lying on the seat.
I looked at the man who was dozing at the other end. Wrinkled skin and silver haired, the man seemed to be tired of the journey and now laid full length on the seat using a small bag as a pillow and a blanket over his feet. He was probably sound asleep and I could hear him snore a bit. There were a couple of other people as well in the compartment but most of them were lazing about and sprawled on their respective seats.
I shifted my gaze back to the lady, whose clear skin and fair complexion now seemed to glow in the dark. I was wondering as what color her eyes were, when she suddenly looked up and caught me staring at her. She had probably the most beautiful eyes that I had ever seen. Her big round brown eyes made her face look smaller and added to her innocent charm. Finding me staring at her, she probably got a little nervous and brought her book closer to her face so I could not catch a direct look.
Since she had now her eyes buried in her book, I knew she could not see me either and this emboldened me further and I could not refrain from being lecherous. I looked at her feet again. Her toes were a little clenched, probably conscious of a stranger hogging at them. She had slender legs and I tried to imagine the shape of her legs and calves. She wasn’t exactly petite but appeared lissome and sylphlike. The arms were smooth and blended effortlessly with the white apparel that she had on. A moving, talking Taj Mahal, I chuckled at the thought.
It wasn’t like that I was some starved maniac who wanted to devour any female form in the vicinity. Maybe it was effect of the few drinks that I had in the afternoon, or the fact that I was practically alone, with this marble beauty, that I let my thoughts run wild and continued savoring the sight before me. To call her simply pretty would be an under-statement, she looked more like an angel and I was drawn to her like a fly to a piece of candy.
“Garam Chai, Sahib?” My chain of thoughts was broken by a vendor who barged in without much of a forewarning and enquired for tea or coffee in a half shrill vendor voice. She, I thought felt a little relieved at the sight of the tea vendor and kept her book by her side and asked for a cup of tea. I asked for one too.
She was still fumbling for change as the tea vendor handed her the small plastic cup. I noticed her fingers were long and the nails weren’t long or polished. There were no rings on the fingers and the wrists were empty, but for a small wrist watch.
“How much?” I questioned the tea vendor.
“10 rupees for both, Sir”? The vendor replied.
I took my cup and handed him a 10/- note and nodded him to leave. A muffled voice of protest escaped her lips. “No, wait. I am giving you the money” she called behind the vendor, who had by now already moved a few steps.
“That’s OK” I urged. Seeing her still carry the look of protest, I added. “I shall take it from you when you find it.”
Seizing the opportunity to strike a conversation, I continued. “Are you going to Delhi too?”
“Yes”, she replied and took a small sip from her cup.
“Hi. My name is Ravi.” I added hoping to catch her name in the process.
She was using both her hands to hold the frail plastic cup, one at the rim and other in the duppatta holding the base. She looked up for a brief moment, as if contemplating whether to give her name or not and then spoke almost in a hushed tone, “Abha.”
Not wanting to allow the silence to prevail again, I carried on. “So, you live in Delhi?”
“My parents live at Vasant Kunj.” She replied, and with one long sip finished the remaining tea. She bent a little to place the empty cup under her seat and dropped her guard for a brief moment. Her duppatta slipped just a little and I caught a view of her neckline for a brief flashing second.
She gathered herself in a swift movement and sat back upright on the seat and picked her book again. I, on the other hand, sat there frozen, sipping on the near empty cup, before crushing and throwing it under my seat.
There was some thing about Abha that was mesmerizing. She was beautiful with an angel face, no doubt, but there was something about the way she talked and carried herself that made me desire her all the more strongly.
Maybe this was what people called ‘Love at first sight’. However, personally, I was not very sure if what I felt was love or pure lust. More than I wanted to see her, I wanted to touch her and be close to her. I did not wish to recite poetry to her eyes, but wanted to gather her in my arms and feel her flowing hair. There was no perfume that she was wearing and I imagined myself going from her ears to her neck, to gather her fragrance. I saw myself playing with her hair, nibbling at her ears and feeling for the corners of her mouth and sipping off her thin, pink lips rather than compare her beauty to pretty flowers. I felt myself craving to touch her, feel her body and make her mine.
I took my eyes off her for a while, lest she grew suspicious of me and picked up my earphones and pretended to listen to some music. I closed my eyes and allowed my mind to indulge in fantasies of all kinds and soon slept with Abha running through my dreams.
A gentle touch woke me up. I looked around hoping to see Abha waking me up. Instead, it was the old man from the seat across, who urged me to wake up, as Delhi was 15 minutes away.
I opened my eyes and saw Abha sitting upright, just as I had last seen her. Her bags were all neatly packed and lined up on her seat. The elderly man who had been sleeping on the birth across, was now sitting at one corner of Abha’s seat.
I woke up and mentally kicked myself for sleeping through the night and wasting any possibility that I could have fancied with her. I was angry at myself and wished I could do something about the lost chance.
I got up, felt the bags under the seat with my feet and sat up straight. My earphones were lying on the floor. I picked them up, got my bags and kept them on the seat, just as Abha had done. I was looking around wondering how much more time I had and if I could manage to ask Abha for her phone number or some thing, to be able to meet her again. Now, that alcohol had totally worn out and the day light cleared my head of any dark desires that I nurtured in my head the whole night, it seemed highly inappropriate to just bluntly ask her for her contact information.
I was still pondering what to do when the elderly gentleman took out a 5/- coin from his pocket and handed it to me. “Sir, this is for the tea that you paid for”, he said.
I looked questioningly at Abha and then at this gentleman, who guessed what my question would be, and continued.
“I am sorry at any inconvenience that we would have put you to. I believe, I was asleep and did not see that my daughter-in-law wanted the tea.” He said.
I had gathered so far that Abha was actually not travelling alone and this gentleman was escorting her, but the last fact that she was actually married and he was in fact her father-in-law, kind of crushed my vain thoughts in the bud.
“Oh, not a problem, please don’t bother. It’s nothing.” I tried to be polite.
Abha’s father-in-law probably did not listen what I was mumbling and proceeded to pat me on the back and just slipped the coin into the pocket of my shirt.
“When Kumar, my son was alive, he took care of everything. Now…” Abha stood up and touched her father-in-law’s arm and he left his sentence unfinished.
I thought I saw a faint tear welling up at the corner of her eyes.
The two sat down and the old man took off his glasses and rubbed his eyes with his palms. He opened his eyes and spoke again. “But he was a brave soldier, my boy. Took down over a score of enemy’s men, before he went down against a tank.”
I did not know what to say. I was lost in the chain of thoughts. I had been fantasizing about a young widow of a martyr all last night. I felt disgusted and despised myself. I sat there in silence as the train screeched to halt at the New Delhi station. She held her father-in-law’s hand and they carried a bag each. It seemed disrespectful somehow to offer to help them with the bags.
They got off on the platform.
I looked at her as she walked on ahead and got lost in the crowd.